I’ve heard of well-meaning dentists and orthodontists giving patients an exercise here or there in an attempt to resolve a tongue thrust.
I wish it were that easy.
A tongue thrust is a sign of a larger problem known as an “orofacial myofunctional disorder” (OMD).
An OMD is a disruption of the normal orofacial growth & development of the muscular, dental, or skeletal structures of the orofacial complex. It can consist of an abnormal resting posture, atypical chewing/swallowing patterns (including a retained “tongue thrust”), and malocclusions. Speech articulation problems can also occur in conjunction with an OMD.
Common causes of OMDs include nasal airway obstructions (including allergies), prolonged oral habits, and tethered oral tissues. Correct oral rest posture and deglutition cannot be established if causative factors are still present. No single exercise will evaluate for risk factors and address them.
In my clinic, we initiate therapy with a comprehensive orofacial myofunctional evaluation. The purpose of the evaluation is to take baseline measurements and assess for possible OMD risk factors. Once risk factors are addressed, we provide basic “pre-treatment” exercises to work on lateralization, tongue/jaw disassociation, lip strength and closure, etc (all essential skills for proper chewing & swallowing). Then we work on oral rest posture. Once oral rest posture has been solidified, we concentrate on the swallow. Toward the end of the program, the focus will turn to habituation into lifestyle.
Again, there is no “magic bullet” exercise to resolve a tongue thrust — let alone an OMD. That’s why our program uses a hierarchical and systematic approach to patient care.